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Dealing with Difficult People

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Can you recall the last time you had to deal with a negative or difficult person? Or the last time someone said something with the intention of hurting you? How did you handle it? What was the result? What can you do in the future to get through these situations with peace and grace?

No matter where we go, we will face people who are negative, people who oppose our ideas, people who piss us off or people who simply do not like us. There are 6.4 billion people out there and conflict is a fact of life. This fact isn’t the cause of conflict but it is the trigger to our emotions and our emotions are what drive us back to our most basic survival instinct; react and attack back to defend ourselves.

In these instinctual moments, we may lose track of our higher selves and become the human animal with an urge to protect ourselves when attacked. This too is natural. However, we are the only animal blessed with intelligence and having the ability to control our responses. So how can we do that?

I regularly get asked “How do you deal with the negative comments about your articles? They are brutal. I don’t think I could handle them.” My answer is simple, “I don’t let it bother me to begin with.” It wasn’t always this simple, and took me some time before overcoming this natural urgency to protect myself and attack back.

I know it’s not easy, if it was easy, there wouldn’t be difficult or negative people to begin with.

Why Bother Controlling Our Responses?

1. Hurting Ourselves

One of my favorite sayings is “Holding a grudge against someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” The only person we hurt is ourselves. When we react to negativity, we are disturbing our inner space and mentally creating pain within ourselves.

2. It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

I’ve learned that when people initiate negativity, it is a reflection of their inner state expressed externally and you just happen to be in front of that expression. It’s not personal, so why do we take it personally? In short: Because our ego likes problems and conflict. People are often so bored and unhappy with their own lives that they want to take others down with them.

There have been many times when a random person has left a purposefully hurtful comment on TSN, and regularly checked back to see if anyone else responded to their comment, waiting eagerly to respond with more negativity.

3. Battle of the Ego

When we respond impulsively, it is a natural and honest response. However, is it the smart thing to do? What can be resolved by doing so? The answer: Nothing. It does however feed our ego’s need for conflict.

Have you noticed that when we fight back, it feels really satisfying in our heads? But it doesn’t feel very good in our soul? Our stomach becomes tight, and we start having violent thoughts?

When we do respond irrationally, it turns the conversation from a one-sided negative expression into a battle of two egos. It becomes an unnecessary and unproductive battle for Who is Right?

4. Anger Feeds Anger. Negativity Feeds Negativity.

Rarely can any good come out of reacting against someone who is in a negative state. It will only trigger anger and an additional reactive response from that person. If we do respond impulsively, we’ll have invested energy in the defending of ourselves and we’ll feel more psychologically compelled to defend ourselves going forward.

Have you noticed that the angrier our thoughts become, the angrier we become? It’s a negative downward spiral.

5. Waste of Energy

Where attention goes, energy flows. What we focus on tends to expand itself. Since we can only focus on one thing at a time, energy spent on negativity is energy that could have been spent on our personal wellbeing.

6. Negativity Spreads

I’ve found that once I allow negativity in one area of my life, it starts to subtly bleed into other areas as well. When we are in a negative state or holding a grudge against someone, we don’t feel very good. We carry that energy with us as we go about our day. When we don’t feel very good, we lose sight of clarity and may react unconsciously to matters in other areas of our lives, unnecessarily.

7. Freedom of Speech

People are as entitled to their opinions as you are. Allow them to express how they feel and let it be. Remember that it’s all relative and a matter of perspective. What we consider positive can be perceived by another as negative. When we react, it becomes me-versus-you, who is right?

Some people may have a less than eloquent way of expressing themselves – it may even be offensive, but they are still entitled to do so. They have the right to express their own opinions and we have the right and will power to choose our responses. We can choose peace or we can choose conflict.

15 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

While I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with negativity, it is something I find myself having to actively work on. When I’m caught off guard and end up resorting to a defensive position, the result rarely turns out well.

The point is, we are humans after all, and we have emotions and egos. However, by keeping our egos in-check and inserting emotional intelligence, we’ll not only be doing a favor for our health and mental space, but we’ll also have intercepted a situation that would have gone bad, unnecessarily.

Photo by Kara Pecknold

Here are some tips for dealing with a difficult person or negative message:

1. Forgive

What would the Dali Lama do if he was in the situation? He would most likely forgive. Remember that at our very core, we are good, but our judgment becomes clouded and we may say hurtful things. Ask yourself, “What is it about this situation or person that I can seek to understand and forgive?

2. Wait it Out

Sometimes I feel compelled to instantly send an email defending myself. I’ve learned that emotionally charged emails never get us the result we want; they only add oil to the fire. What is helpful is inserting time to allow ourselves to cool off. You can write the emotionally charged email to the person, just don’t send it off. Wait until you’ve cooled off before responding, if you choose to respond at all.

3. “Does it really matter if I am right?

Sometimes we respond with the intention of defending the side we took a position on. If you find yourself arguing for the sake of being right, ask “Does it matter if I am right?” If yes, then ask “Why do I need to be right? What will I gain?

4. Don’t Respond

Many times when a person initiates a negative message or difficult attitude, they are trying to trigger a response from you. When we react, we are actually giving them what they want. Let’s stop the cycle of negative snowballing and sell them short on what they’re looking for; don’t bother responding.

5. Stop Talking About It

When you have a problem or a conflict in your life, don’t you find that people just love talking about it? We end up repeating the story to anyone who’ll listen. We express how much we hate the situation or person. What we fail to recognize in these moments is that the more we talk about something, the more of that thing we’ll notice.

Example, the more we talk about how much we dislike a person, the more hate we will feel towards them and the more we’ll notice things about them that we dislike. Stop giving it energy, stop thinking about it, and stop talking about it. Do your best to not repeat the story to others.

6. Be In Their Shoes

As cliché as this may sound, we tend to forget that we become blind-sided in the situation. Try putting yourself in their position and consider how you may have hurt their feelings. This understanding will give you a new perspective on becoming rational again, and may help you develop compassion for the other person.

7. Look for the Lessons

No situation is ever lost if we can take away from it some lessons that will help us grow and become a better person. Regardless of how negative a scenario may appear, there is always a hidden gift in the form of a lesson. Find the lesson(s).

8. Choose to Eliminate Negative People In Your Life

Negative people can be a source of energy drain. And deeply unhappy people will want to bring you down emotionally, so that they are not down there alone. Be aware of this. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and do not mind the energy drain, I recommend that you cut them off from your life.

Cut them out by avoiding interactions with them as much as possible. Remember that you have the choice to commit to being surrounded by people who have the qualities you admire: optimistic, positive, peaceful and encouraging people. As Kathy Sierra said, “Be around the change you want to see in the world.”

9. Become the Observer

When we practice becoming the observer of our feelings, our thoughts and the situation, we separate ourselves away from the emotions. Instead of identifying with the emotions and letting them consume us, we observe them with clarity and detachment. When you find yourself identifying with emotions and thoughts, bring your focus on your breathe.

10. Go for a Run

… or a swim, or some other workout. Physical exercise can help to release the negative and excess energy in us. Use exercise as a tool to clear your mind and release built up negative energy.

11. Worst Case Scenario

Ask yourself two questions,

  1. If I do not respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?
  2. If I do respond, what is the worst thing that can result from it?

Answering these questions often adds perspectives to the situation, and you’ll realize that nothing good will come out of reacting. Your energy will be wasted, and your inner space disturbed.

12. Avoid Heated Discussions

When we’re emotionally charged, we are so much in our heads that we argue out of an impulse to be right, to defend ourselves, for the sake of our egos. Rationality and resolution can rarely arise out of these discussions. If a discussion is necessary, wait until everyone has cooled off before diving into one.

13. Most Important

List out things in your life most important to you. Then ask yourself, “Will a reaction to this person contribute to the things that matter most to me?

14. Pour Honey

This doesn’t always work, but sometimes catches people off guard when they’re trying to “Pour Poison” on you. Compliment the other person for something they did well, tell them you’ve learned something new through interacting with them, and maybe offer to become friends. Remember to be genuine. You might have to dig deep to find something that you appreciate about this person.

15. Express It

Take out some scrap paper and dump all the random and negative thoughts out of you by writing freely without editing. Continue to do so until you have nothing else to say. Now, roll the paper up into a ball, close your eyes and visualize that all the negative energy is now inside that paper ball. Toss the paper ball in the trash. Let it go!

** How do you deal with difficult people? What has worked well for you in the past? How do you cool down when you’re all fired up and angry? Share your thoughts in the comments. See you there!


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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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462 thoughts on Dealing with Difficult People

  1. Nathan

    You know great things happen to good people. It takes a lot to be someone who’s going to sacrifice there pride or time to a person who is misunderstood. knowledge is power so gain as much as possible.

  2. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I needed that. Thanks !

  3. Dear admin, thanks for providing this blog post. I found it great. Take care,

  4. Lavinia Vivien Durrant

    This is a good article regarding dealing with difficult people, problem is these type of people come in many guises. I have some friends who are very good people kind, would do anything for me but they are very nosy and like a lot of gossip about others which i don’t really care for myself. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with it all especially if i feel unwell or a little stressed or down in myself at times. Why these people would want to know everything which goes on in their neighbourhood is hard for me to relate too but there is no accounting for taste i suppose. I do tolerate many people but sometimes i have to back away and go for a nice peacefull walk away from it all.

  5. i liked this article…….it helps when you are dealing with difficult people.

  6. I had an old boss, a woman, that abused and harassed me for 5 years. I was told that because I’m a white guy over 40 I have no rights and just bend over and take it. When I left for a better paying job, seeing my success, she found a way to pull strings to get me fired. The temptation was to get some kind of revenge that would utterly destroy her, her family, her assets, everything. I’m ex-military and a disabled veteran. I would have had no remorse in doing so.

    But, a spiritual teacher told me that on a karmic level, she has become financially responsible for me. This might explain why I’m able to go to a very expensive art school and not pay for it. Going back and messing with that symbiotic relationship, even if I’m not caught, may mess up my current path.

  7. Trish

    There was a time when I thought to dish it back to the person was the way to go, until I realized that I am now acting the same way as they are. I would like those around be to bring out the best in me not the worst. So now I am TRYING (with no success yet) to view the situation as a lesson. It is easy to love lovable people, but the test is to love the difficult people. Thank you for your words I am going to print this to help me with my daily struggle with this difficult person. :-)

  8. Chris

    I found this to be good information, right now I am trying to not lose it and end up regretting any of my actions. I had to move back in with my parents for financial reasons, and my step brother’s behavior is getting out of hand. He’s 19 and 5 out of 7 nights a week he has at least 5-8 people over which the gatherings consist of Smoking weed, and sometimes they do other drugs, they play music until 4 in the morning. then always leave the common area in the basement a mess. I am always on his ass about it, but he is one of the most inconsiderate disrespectful people I’ve ever had the “pleasure” of knowing. His behavior has my blood boiling to the point I sometimes see images in my head of me severely hurting the insolent POS. But I know that will only make matters worse. If I could move out right now I would go in a heartbeat, but I’m stuck and don’t know what to do, and everytime I bring it up to my Dad or stepmom they don’t do anything effective to correct the situation. Really frustrated, and can’t sleep because of how bad it is bothering me.

  9. Chris, why don’t you call the cops if they’re doing drugs? In the meantime, find another place to live if you can. Write on a piece of paper exactly what you want and burn it – like incense – make it a prayer. You may be surprised at what doors may open for you. I’ve been in that situation and it sucks. Give it a try and see what happens.

  10. Chris

    Believe me, If i had the money to move right now I’d already be gone. And I have thought about calling the cops on him before, but have made the conscious decision that since we both live with my dad, if I see drugs coming into this house again I will call the cops. And that is based on my dads profession which I will keep anonymous, but something illegal like that under my Dads roof could jeapordize his career/entire livelihood. As for his blatant disrespect and insolence, I’m just going to try and ignore it. With the paper burning thing, do you mean i should write what irritates me, or what I want to make me happy, or both?

  11. sangeeta

    today I just opened up my laptop to search for a site which will enable me to get rid off all the negativity my sister gave me during her living in my house. Thankfully I got this site. Right from this moment I will try out all the tips given…..
    at times i really feel that all the negative people should be tied and hanged…..ha..ha..ha…

  12. Whitney

    I would just like to say this article has really helped me. I am in a situation where a negative person has moved in with my family, and am trying hard to get past it. I usually use tip number 8, but I can’t eliminate a negative person from my life, which I normally try to do, if they live with me. It’s becoming a huge struggle for me. This article has helped by showing me other options to use when dealing with negative people, and I feel I might get through this a little easier. :)

  13. Lynda

    Great article with good advise Thanks!
    Some of the responses about how to react to rude people are very funny! Even though there is nothing funny about this problem! It’s very complicated but I think that Zach is right to a certain degree….Can we really keep letting people get away with rude, hateful behavoir without calling them on it? I think people do need to know it won’t be tolerated. And it’s bad enough when it’s co-workers or strangers …What about when it’s “family” LOL
    I am tired of hearing that these people are in pain or having difficulties…While that is probably true (and is it any wonder~ what goes round comes round) I guess I can’t belive that most of these rude people don’t know that it is wrong or feel a sense of guilt about it!

  14. Kim

    Great article! Understanding the psychology behind people’s behavior goes a long way toward diplomacy and peaceful interactions. Negative people don’t deserve our time and attention and learning how to dismiss them is key to maintaining calm. It’s a gift we give to ourselves! Thanks!

  15. Big C

    After reading through several of the comments here, I happened to agree with a couple of people that a neutral approach is the best way for dealing with a difficult person. Shown above, there were examples made by Tina and Zach that were specific scenarios. I, however happened to agree with both if them that your judgement is what counts when dealing in any kind of situation. But, back to Tina and Zach. You both had different opinions, and explained them without being negative. Throughout reading the article, I perceived like, if you happened to disagree with someone, you shouldn’t tell them, or else you will be thinking negative thoughts, and that disagreeing will lead to conflict. I think that voicing your opinion is ok to do, most of the time.

    In conclusion, I think that being assertive & passive is the best way to deal with anybody. There are times when you need to stand up for something. Observing is ok, but when the time for action comes, you must stand up. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, when the time comes, you will have to decide for yourself whether being passive or assertive will help. It mostly comes down to what type of person you are.

  16. Anonymous

    I believe it is impossible to have a clear personality or doing a certain thing works for everything and everyone. Part of conflict is working out how to handle this. And that brings up different problems and questions, but the most important one in my opinion is how I should act in this situation, what actions should I take or do, and do only what is necessary. Thats only a good thought process you should keep handy. But I don’t believe that you will answer these questions in your head the same in every situation. Just a thought coming from a young pupil~

  17. Faizan

    Great Advice! Thank you soo much im going to try to apply this in my everyday life.

  18. In conclusion, I think that being assertive & passive is the best way to deal with anybody. There are times when you need to stand up for something. Observing is ok, but when the time for action comes, you must stand up. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, when the time comes, you will have to decide for yourself whether being passive or assertive will help. It mostly comes down to what type of person you are.

  19. In conclusion, I think that being assertive & passive is the best way to deal with anybody. There are times when you need to stand up for something.

  20. Jill C.

    Wow! Your article was exactly what I needed today. On Saturday morning my husband and I had a very, very ugly encounter with our
    difficult neighbor. We spent the rest of the weekend rehashing the event, rehearsing what we would really liked to have said, bracing ourselves for the next round with him. Our plan has been to avoid him and not engage to the greatest extent possible. I will share this article with my husband as soon as possible and follow the rest of your advice. Thank you!!!

  21. Mason

    Think of the most negative, delusional person you’ve ever met. Now imagine them living in your house for 9 months without paying rent; this is my aunt. How should I deal with her? I can’t just avoid her because she’s living with me, and I can’t make her leave because I’m only 15 and my mom(single mother) is extremely passive. I’ve always been a very humble and passive person but this is the ONLY person I’ve ever met that can make me this angry.

    Almost every belief she has is different from mine, and she actively(as in every day) tries to convince everyone that she’s right. She turns everything I say into an argument so I can’t even try to speak with her rationally. :/

  22. What if it is your boyfriend that is hard to deal with?

  23. Max

    Look at how long the comments are… Proves how successful this article is… very helpful btw.

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